Sruthi Srinivasan, LLM ’17 Supports “Art for All”
Bharatnatyam is a traditional dance popular in South India and around the globe. It is not only relatable, but its distinct combination of music and movement creates an internal rhythm in those practicing the artform.
Dance is in the DNA of Sruthi Srinivasan, LLM ’17. The daughter of a professional dancer and teacher, Srinivasan has been practicing the 2,000-year-old art of bharatnatyam since the age of seven. As the only member of her family to study law, Srinivasan realized as an adult that she wanted to combine her passions for social justice and dance. “I am a corporate attorney,” she explains, “but my heart yearned to do something more for society.”
While back at home in India during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Srinivasan and her mother, Kausalya, came up with the idea to teach dance to students in marginalized communities in India. Both had visited under-resourced regions and learned about the social and economic challenges faced by residents. Their resulting initiative — “Art for All” — offers inclusive access to dance.
“The process of learning an artform involves spending fees on tuition, clothes, accessories, accompanying artists, and performances,” Srinivasan explains. “These are cost-intensive and not everyone will be able to afford it. We’re breaking the cycle and bringing bharatnatyam to anyone interested in learning it, regardless of their age or social status.”
Most of the students taught by Sruthi and Kausalya are native Dravidian speakers, who live in the Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Karnataka. While fishing and farming are now the predominant livelihoods in those areas, Srinivasan notes the discrimination that remains a reality for the locals. “Some members in the community were bonded laborers and subject to police brutality,” she says. “Women had to undergo harassment and exploitation. Most of these brutalities happen [today] to the members of the community. From my interaction with them, they come across as resourceful, knowledgeable on multiple topics, and strong from within.”
Prior to meeting the Srinivasans, most of the young people in the region had only seen bharatnatyam on social media or television. When they were first introduced to the community, Sruthi and her mother determined that access to the arts could not only help their young students gain confidence and an appreciation for the arts, but also instill a desire to pass those traits along to the next generation.
“The ideal outcome of the initiative is to involve as many students as possible who are passionate about dance and to teach them free of cost,” Srinivasan says. “The students will blossom into confident adults who have sensitivity toward the arts and the society.”
In her professional life, Srinivasan serves as corporate counsel at Tekion, a California-based cloud platform. Her work involves global transactions, privacy, product compliance, immigration, and real estate. She also has worked in other sectors of the legal profession, including oil and gas, project management, information technology, and ecommerce.
Sruthi considers her parents an inspiration. Her mother, a Fulbright Scholar who has taught at many America universities, was directed to the needs of disadvantaged communities in India by Judge K. Chandru, a well-known advocate for impoverished citizens and the subject of a documentary, Jai Bhim. “My mother inspires me to push myself every day,” Srinivasan says. “When she told me that Justice Chandru had directed her to grounding the arts initiative toward members of marginalized communities, I wanted to be involved. We went to the Thindivanam area in Southern India to conduct demo sessions and enroll students for hharatnatyam lessons. Without Justice Chandru we would never have access to such an area and such a platform to ground our initiative.”
Srinivasan was first exposed to pro bono legal work during the year she spent at UNH Franklin Pierce earing her LLM. At the time, she participated in the IP Transaction Clinic as a clinician working under the guidance of Professor Ashlyn Lembree. Through that opportunity, she gained experience handling real-life cases, providing legal strategy, conducting interviews, drafting documents, preparing filings, and advising clients. She hopes to do similar work for members of the communities in which she and her mother are introducing dance.
“The initiative to teach dance free of cost is an extension of my work at the IP Clinic because I am able to interact with individuals from a wide [range] of society,” she explains. “When I visit the hamlets of the marginalized communities, they tell me about the brutalities and everyday troubles they need to overcome. I hope to render pro bono support at some point in the future to ease their troubles.”